Oils, Discretionary Calories and Daily Water Needs


Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. They occur naturally in plant foods (such as nuts and seeds, avocados, and olives) and in fish. Oils contain a mixture of fats, and they are important dietary sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Many oils are also good sources of vitamin E. Oils from plant sources are cholesterol free.

Although the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils and foods naturally rich in oils do not raise blood cholesterol levels, the oils provide a lot of calories in relatively small portions. Because we get most of the oils we need naturally from foods, we need to limit the amount of vegetable oils and other fats we add to foods while cooking or at the table.

MyPyramid recommends 3-11 teaspoons of oils per day depending on your individual calorie needs. Each of the following are the equivalent of 1 teaspoon of oil and contain approximately 45 calories:

• 1 teaspoon of oil (including canola, corn, cottonseed, olive, safflower, soybean, sunflower, sesame, or walnut oils); mayonnaise; mayonnaise-type salad dressing; or margarine (soft, trans fat free)
• 1 tablespoon Italian or Thousand Island salad dressing; mayonnaise (light or low-fat)
• 2 tablespoons light salad dressing
• ½ cup avocado, sliced
• Olives (15 small or 10 large black pitted; 7 green [queen size]; 12 stuffed green olives)
• ½ oz. of most nuts (14 peanuts, 12 almonds, or 9 cashews) or 1 tablespoon nut butters (these also count as 1-oz, equivalents of Meat and Beans)

Monounsaturated fatty acids are healthful unsaturated fats that provide calories and are liquid at room temperature but can become more solid when refrigerated.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential unsaturated fats that need to be obtained by the diet because the body cannot make them; they’re healthful unsaturated fats that provide the body with calories and are usually liquid at room temperature or when refrigerated.

Discretionary Calories

In addition to the basic food categories, MyPyramid provides a discretionary calorie allowance; these are extra calories that are available every day in addition to the calories provided by the lean, low-fat, and low-sugar foods and beverages in key food groups. You can use your discretionary calories for larger portions of foods, or to consume a desired fatty or sugary treat (for example, full-fat cheese instead of low-fat cheese). You can also count foods that don’t fit neatly in any of the basic food categories as discretionary calories; these include solid fats (like butter or cream cheese), sugary foods, and alcoholic beverages.

MyPyramid recommends between 165 and 648 discretionary calories per day depending on your daily calorie needs.

Discretionary calorie allowance is the amount of calories left in a person’s total energy or calorie allowance after accounting for the number of calories needed to meet recommended nutrient intakes from low-fat, low-sugar foods and beverages.

Daily Water Needs

Although humans can survive a few weeks without food, we can’t last more than a few days without water. About 55%-75% of the human body is made of water. Water has several vital functions in the body:

• It carries oxygen and nutrients such as glucose and fat to muscles and helps eliminate wastes such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid from the body.
• It regulates body temperature.
• It prevents dehydration.
• It reduces fluid retention.
• It provides moisture to the skin, ears, nose, and throat.
• It aids digestion because it’s a key component of saliva and gastric juices.
• It helps fiber pass through the body more easily (to prevent constipation or gastrointestinal discomfort).
• It protects joints, organs (including the brain, eyes, and spinal cord), and other body tissues from shock.
About 80% of our daily water needs typically comes from water and other beverages, but about 20% comes from water-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, fish and cheese.

Daily Recommended Amounts

The Institute of Medicine recommends the following intakes of “water” (from foods and all beverages) each day:

• Women – 11 cups of water
• Men – 16 cups of water

Because only 20 percent of daily water needs can typically be met from foods, 80 percent should come from liquids including water. To meet these needs, women should aim for the equivalent of 9 cups of fluids and men about 13 cups of fluids.

Because daily water needs increase during pregnancy and breastfeeding, the Institute of Medicine recommends the following daily intakes:

• Pregnancy – 13 cups of water
• Breastfeeding – 16 cups of water

Daily “water” needs can be met by drinking any beverage including water, milk, 100 percent fruit juice, coffee, tea, and other beverages.

Water needs also increase in a variety of conditions and situations, including the following:

• If you exercise, especially for long periods of time or in warm weather
• When the weather is hot and you sweat a lot
• When the weather is cold and you skin is less moist
• If you live in or visit places in high altitudes (greater than 8,200 feet)
• When you travel on an airplane where air is recirculated
• When you have a fever, vomit, or have diarrhea
• If you have certain health conditions such as kidney, liver, thyroid, adrenal, or heart disease and retain more water

Because young children (including infants) don’t sweat as much and don’t tolerate high temperatures as well as adults, their fluid intakes need to be monitored more closely. Also, older adults are less able to sense thirst than younger adults, and may drink less water than they need and should also be monitored. The best way for most people to gauge that they’re getting adequate water is to make sure they’re urinating at least every 2 or 3 hours; urine should be pale yellow or clear in color, although sometimes dietary supplements or medicines can alter the color of urine to make it appear more concentrated.

Constipation is a condition characterized by difficult or infrequent bowel movements.

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